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June 3, 2015

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J. Patrick Coolican:

Young veterans searching for work after serving the country deserve support

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Sam Morris

Army Sgt. Frank Reyes, in town for the Wounded Warriors event, listens to Michelle Saunders during a workshop on resume building at the Hire Our Heros job fair Thursday, May 17, 2012.

Hire Our Heroes Job Fair

Lockheed Martin's Sim Garriott and Stephanie DaVilla share a laugh during the Hire Our Heros job fair event for military members Thursday, May 17, 2012. Launch slideshow »
J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

During Shaun Clark’s time in the U.S. Army, he was deployed as airborne infantry to Afghanistan, Iraq and to Haiti after the earthquake. He’s experienced more in three years than most of us will in a lifetime. At 21, he’s back home and asking: Now what?

That’s the question facing many young veterans, who served in some treacherous war zones and now find themselves living in a civilian world that must seem at once dull, a little confusing and not very welcoming.

The unemployment rate for veterans who have served on active duty at any time since September 2001 — referred to as Gulf War-era II veterans — was 12.1 percent in 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That was significantly higher than the rest of the population.

For male veterans ages 18 to 24, the situation is worse, with an unemployment rate of 29.1 percent in 2011, compared with 17.6 percent of young male nonveterans.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is trying to fix this deplorable problem with a program called Hiring Our Heroes, and they held a job fair at the Venetian on Thursday. (First lady Michelle Obama has a similar initiative.)

Many young veterans joined the service right out of high school and need to catch up on the basics, such as how to write a resume.

Once they know the basics, young veterans confront a problem: how to translate duty, honor and country into bullet points on a resume.

Nathan Smith, who was a Marine Corps infantry officer, is executive director of Hire Heroes, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that offers employment training for veterans and connects them with employers. As he put it, “How do you put ‘Infantry in Afghanistan’ on a resume?”

He said that when he talks to employers, his message is, “Hire for attitude and train for skill.”

This is especially crucial for young men whose primary experience has been combat arms in the Army and Marine Corps. (Navy and Air Force veterans often leave the service with technical skills in demand in the private sector.)

“We ask employers to take that leap and train them, and then they get a really great employee who will add to the bottom line,” Smith said.

A group of young men sat around a table getting some nuts-and-bolts advice on life after the military. Take advantage of tuition assistance. Talk to your friends who have left the service.

“I had no idea what my options were,” Smith told them. “All I knew was the Marines.”

“No one is going to do it for you, but the best alumni network in the world is the U.S. military, and particularly the Marines,” Smith said.

Frank Reyes, who has served two tours in Afghanistan during his four years in the Army, is in Las Vegas with other injured veterans this week on an all-expense paid trip to the Palazzo, an annual tradition there.

He’ll be finished in September 2013 and is already making preparations. He wants to go into law enforcement, so he’s lining up schooling back in Texas to study criminal justice. And he’s heading to a dermatologist to start the no-doubt painful process of removing tattoos from his hands — a police officer can’t have those. He said the job fair workshop helped him see how he could translate his experiences — using expensive machinery, meeting deadlines and working with team members — into a solid resume.

As an Army combat infantryman, he suffered a concussion and traumatic brain injury but says he’s on his way to full recovery.

The same can’t be said of the American economy anytime soon, so let’s support these programs for veterans however we can.

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